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Explaining Biblical Words
'The Sadducees'

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The Sadducees  

While there are few direct references to the Sadducees in the Gospels, it was a Sadducee, Caiaphas the High Priest, who was the architect of Jesus's death. 

The Sadducees were a party or sect among the Jews at the time of Jesus. They may have taken their name from Zadok, the High Priest in the time of David and Solomon. This autocratic party of Sadducees was small, wealthy and held the highest positions in religion and state. Their main interests centred on the Temple. 

The High Priest, appointed by the Romans, and the higher ranks of the Priesthood were Sadducees. Annas had so exerted his influence that six High Priests in succession had been members of his family and Caiaphas, the seventh, was his son-in-law. The importance of Caiaphas in the trial of Jesus gives some indication of the intrigue, prestige and privilege of the Sadducees. Jesus's cleansing of the Temple (Mark Ch 11 vv 15-18) - a protest against the sale of animals which had to be paid for in Temple money involving an exchange rate levy - represented a challenge to their authority and vested interests. 

While the High Priests were Sadducees not all Sadducees were priests. The party included Jewish lay nobility and landowners with considerable resources. The lay nobility were descendants of the ancient ruling families within the tribes after the settlement in Canaan. They also directed the settlement and administration of the exiles in Babylon. 

Because the Sadducees were of a select social background they were out of touch with developments in popular thought and their involvement with Roman politics would not make them popular with the people. 

Conservative in their religious outlook, the Sadducees interpreted Scripture literally and insisted that the written law was obligatory. They rejected the interpretations and oral traditions of the Pharisees even if the mass of the population followed the Pharisees. They denied the existence of an after-life; future rewards and punishments; the need to accept the idea of angels and spirits to mediate between God and man. 

This conservatism in religion did not allow them to appreciate new doctrines. Their privileged position in religion and state meant they were indifferent to any hopes of a delivering Messiah. They frowned on the passive resistance of the Pharisees and the aggressive nationalism of the Zealots, the freedom fighters who despised the Sadducees' compromise with the Roman Occupiers. 

Jesus had few dealings with the Sadducees during his Galilean ministry but he does refer to them in his teaching. Their influence was not as great in Galilee as in Jerusalem. The Gospel of John does not mention them at all. Mark relates the question about the resurrection which they may well have asked to ridicule Jesus (Mark Ch 12 vv 18-27). Matthew refers to them six times (Matthew Ch 3 v 7; Ch 16 vv 1, 6, 11, 12; Ch 22 vv 23, 34). Although not mentioned by name in the accounts of the Passion of Jesus they were included in references to the High Priests. It was probably their action in the Sanhedrin which secured Jesus's conviction. 

The Pharisees and High Priests asked the Sanhedrin "what are we to do?" when they could not trip Jesus up on his teaching, condemn him for his healing activities or find a sound reason to arrest him. Caiaphas, the Sadducee, made the political comment "it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people". 

Betrayal, false-witnesses, an illegal trial, spurious charges of blasphemy and treason against Rome culminated in a sentence of death. Jews could not execute the death penalty and so Caiaphas handed Jesus over to the Romans for execution. 

Ironically, Caiaphas did not realise that while his words might have been politically expedient at the time, they would have the same meaning in God's plan of salvation for mankind. 

Christian Education Commitee , 2003


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